Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Caffeine Fix(i)

I admit I'm a sucker for certain marketing gimmicks, particularly those with the keywords "limited", "(about to be) banned", "pulped" and "coffee".

A certain marketing gimmick combining two of the above keywords is what drove me to this year's KL International Book Fair. After the last one I'd been to (in 2008), my expectations for this year's Fair were low.

I only stayed longer than I did because they spread the booths across more areas and levels this year, and I got lost. And the crowds were there, including schoolchildren who were bussed to the venue.

Waterfish bait
So, what made me endure the crowds at PWTC on Bersih 3.0 Day?

“Kopi” at Mukha Café
Kopi at Mukha Café, TTDI, KL
A collection of Malay short stories called Kopi by Fixi. And a mug.

Like the Fair, both looked nice on the Internet. The book was small, and the mug didn't feel hefty enough for holding boiling hot liquids.

The book is pretty, though, inside and out. Like a mini-coffee table book without pictures.

Apparently, Kopi (Coffee) was published to raise funds for a series of short films. Limited to a 1,500-copy print run, this limited-edition short story anthology will only be sold online through Fixi's portal and Amazon, and at events such as book fairs. There will be no reprints once the book is sold out.

Also, it seems the publisher was told that short story anthologies weren't moving off the shelves, so he's not making Kopi available at bookstores. But with this publisher, you never know.

Amir Muhammad should be a fisherman. He knows how to bait a line and get waterfish (suckers) like me chasing after it.

A complex brew
“Kopi” at Artisan Roast TTDI, KL
Kopi at Artisan Roast TTDI, KL
All the short stories revolve around, are inspired by or includes coffee and are written either by Fixi's authors or contributors who have worked with it at some point. Funny, melancholy, surreal or just scary, the stories conjure up emotions or mental images one might or might not experience when one's brain stem is being shaken by caffeine.

Several stories - some scary, some touching - offer plot twists that are quite inventive, until one realises that it's been done before. But it seems so fresh in these pages. Maybe it's the language - some shorts are buoyed by the rhythm of urban contemporary Malaysian Malay that also has elements of colloquial Chinese, Indonesian and English speech, the lingo of the country's new generation.

In Shaz Johar's "Kopi 3 Rasa" ("Three Flavours of Coffee"), a maid is a witness to the misery and dysfunction in the affluent family she serves. We follow the antics of a skirt-chaser through accounts of his exploits to the female narrator at various cafés in Dayang Noor's "Bersaksi Kopi" ("Witnessed by Coffee").

"Kau Kopikoku" ("You're My [Coffee Candy]") by Dheepan Pranthaman sharply conveys the pain of a young man whose long-held crush for a girl is eventually shattered. Similarly poignant is Nadia Khan's "Kopi Kola" ("Coffee/Cola"), a sad tale of first and unrequited love.

The unexpected plot twists in Amal Hamsan's "Kopi Percik" ("Splattered Coffee") and Gina Yap Lai Yoong's "Cinta Kopi" ("Coffee Love" - boy, translating is hard) bring to mind M Night Shyamalan, which is already saying too much.

In "Ritual" (no need to translate, right?), Luc Abdullah takes us on an exploration of the turmoil faced by two lovers with a really big problem. Meanwhile, Redza Minhat's "Venti" (ditto) manages to tickle with its vulgarity and the "flat what" ending.

Like the caffeine that keeps some awake at night, Faizal Sulaiman's "Kopi Julia" ("Julia's Coffee") and "Tangan Berulat" ("Maggotty Hands") by Fadli Al-Akiti provide potent nightmare fuel. Ridhwan Saidi's "Luwak and Kretek" ("Civet Coffee and Clove Cigarette") is a surreal and shameless piece of self-promotion that's kind of genius.

Oh yes... there are pictures, courtesy of Nik Adam Ahmad's pictorial essay "Kopi Jantan Kaw" ("Strong 'Man' (ahem) Coffee").

The rest of the stories are good, too. It's hard to pick out the best of the best, or even the best. Heck, why bother?

Sweet, sour, bitter at turns and bursting with complex, local flavours, Kopi is a pretty decent blend from a new generation of writers.

edited by Amir Muhammad
Fixi (March 2012)
180 pages
ISBN: 978-967-0374-05-5



  1. I personally hope U enjoyed the book :)
    Ah, nothing on Barista Cinta?

    Btw, I love the way u took the photographs. Cool!

    1. Thank you, Kak Zara, for taking the time to comment. I think my photography still needs work, though.

      Kopi was fun. Glad I got a copy. Some parts were scary, though.

      "Love Barista", your piece? That was fine, too. Janganlah tersinggung kerana karya Kak Zara tidak disebut, bukan kerana saya tak suka.

    2. No worries dear.
      I'm joking anyway.
      Glad that U enjoyed reading Kopi :)


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